In 1908 James Bowater left his family home in Sanson to complete his saddlery apprenticeship working for Mr Wiseman a saddler in Raetihi. Eventually Wiseman’s returned to Auckland and James set up his own business in 1912.
His brother Harold joined him and became Bowater & Co at 40 Seddon Street (site of now fish shop). Unfortunately, James succumbed to the 1918 Flu epidemic, Harold carried on under an overseer, Joe Kelly, as Harold was a minor (under 21).
The original Bowater saddlery shop with James Bowater at the right
All went well till the 1930 Depression period, as with many others the shop went bankrupt, and all assets were sold. Through the goodwill of his friends, they purchased his saddlery tools and gave them back to him to make another start. This was a wonderful gesture and the business continued and picked up and he was also able to take on interested young men for short periods.
Eventually he with his friend Neville Mosen, a bootmaker, purchased a double shop, 82-84 Seddon Street, both businesses thrived. In 1970 Harold purchased his neighbour Nev’s premises as Nev’s sight was failing.
The two shops were combined into one and modernised and a larger range of saddlery, bags and sports goods were displayed, and saddlery work was always in demand as the only repair saddlery in south King Country.
In 1975 Harold suffered a stroke and son Alan who had trained as a saddler in Hamilton, together with wife Cathe purchased the business and carried on till 2003. The buildings were sold to an Auckland entrepreneur and a young couple purchased the stock and rented the building, unfortunately this did not prosper. Today the building is still vacant.
Allan retired to Wanganui, as his wife had passed away and continued doing leather work as a hobby.
During the early years there had been other saddlers in Raetihi when the demand for saddlery was high. Horses were so much in demand in the development of the country and really provided manpower and vital transport.
I have recorded the story from the best of my knowledge and from family history.
Howard Alan Bowater